On March 17, for the second time in slightly less than a year, voters in the Komarek School District 94 will decide whether to raise their taxes to borrow money to fund a major upgrade that will include tearing down a major portion of the east wing of the school and adding a new wing to the west building.
Last year, nearly 59 percent of voters rejected a building bond referendum seeking $22 million to tear down the entire east wing of the school and replace it with a major addition to the west side of the campus.
This time, the school board came back to voters with a slightly scaled down plan that keeps the existing gym in the east building, which earlier had been marked for demolition, and would cost $20.8 million.
If the referendum is approved the entire 30,000-square-foot west building, which was built in 1955, would be completely renovated. Much of the east building, which was built in 1935, would be torn down, except for the gym, which would be modernized.
All core academic classrooms would be moved to the west side of the campus where a new addition would be built. The end result would be four additional flexible classrooms, down from five in last year’s plan. Preschool would expand to two classrooms from the current one classroom.
Advocates for the Vote Yes campaign say the upgrades and expansion are sorely needed. They say that in the year since the last referendum’s defeat more district residents are aware of the urgent need to improve the building.
“I feel, as a parent, that the education that my kids have gotten, have come in spite of the school facility,” said Melissa Obrock, a co-chair of the Vote Yes for District 94 group. “It’s an incredible place, the staff and faculty are wonderful, the family community is wonderful, the facility is not up to the standards of the people in our community. The crumbling foundation, the egress issues, the lack of ADA accessibility throughout the building.”
Obrock said that this year’s Vote Yes campaign is more inclusive than last year’s effort with many more people taking part.
“The young families are really banding together,” Obrock said. “We’re really creating a positive movement looking to the future of the district and working together. Our community can support this. We have the means to support this and we should.”
Vote Yes campaigners, who include a number of Komarek teachers and a few Komarek students, have been out in force, knocking on doors for the past two weekends and will be again be out this weekend.
The steering committee of the vote Yes group has greatly expanded this year and include a number of local elected officials, including North Riverside village trustees Fernando Flores, Joseph Mengoni, Marybelle Mandel, Terri Sarro, former village trustee Jason Bianco and Village Clerk Cathy Ranieri.
Obrock said residents seem more aware now of the need to upgrade the Komarek building.
“It seems to be better accepted this time around that this is a need and we do need to address it,” Obrock said.
Opponents of the referendum remain convinced and have been vocal on social media. They say the property tax increases, projected to be approximately $600 a year for home worth $250,000 and $732 annually for a home worth $300,000, is just too much for many senior citizens and those on a fixed income.
“A lot of the residents, especially the elderly and the people on a tight budget, they’re going to be hurting if this referendum passes,” said George Georgopoulos, a member of the North Riverside Zoning Board of Appeals and the village’s Recreation Commission.
Georgopoulos, whose four children have all graduated from Komarek, said his attempt to become a member of the steering committee was rebuffed and he is not convinced that the school district has been totally accurate in their descriptions of the problems with the Komarek building.
Obrock said that the need for a major upgrade and renovation is real and obvious to those who spend time in the building.
“We’re getting a lot of feedback going to door to door,” Obrock said. “Obviously there are people who are not fans of it. I am optimistic that we are making our difference in the community and hopefully we will pass it this time and if not, we will just start working right back again. The conversation won’t go away.”